A Tobacco Plant Punch Magazine, November 11, 1914
Punch, November 11, 1941
I had done the second hole (from the vegetable-marrow frame to the mulberry-tree) in two, and was about to proceed to the third hole by the potting-shed when I thought I would go in and convey the glad news to Joan. I found her seated at the table in the breakfast-room with what appeared to be a heap of tea spread out upon a newspaper in front of her. Little slips of torn tissue-paper littered the floor, and on a chair by her side were several empty cardboard boxes. The sight was so novel that I forgot the object of my errand.
“What’s all that tea for, and what are you doing with it?” I asked.
“It isn’t tea; it’s tobacco,” Joan replied, “and I’m making cigarettes for the soldiers at the front.”
“Where on earth did you get that tobacco from, if it is tobacco?” I went on.
“Let me see now,” mused Joan, pausing to lick a cigarette-paper — “was it from the greengrocer’s or the butcher’s? Ah! I remember. It was from the tobacconist’s.”
Joan gets like that sometimes, but I do not encourage her.
“But what made you choose this Hottentot stuff?” I enquired.
“The soldiers like it strong,” Joan replied, “and this looked about the strongest he’d got.”
“What does it call itself?”
“It was anonymous when I bought it, but you’ll no doubt see its name on the bill when it comes in.”
“Thanks very much,” I said. “That’s what I should call forcible fleecing. Not that I mind in a good cause — ”
“Isn’t it ingenious?” interrupted Joan. “You just put the tobacco in between the rollers, and twiddle this button round until — until you’ve twiddled it round enough; then you slip in a cigarette-paper — like that — moisten the edge of it — twiddle the button round once more — open the lid — and shake out the finished article — comme ça!”
An imperfect cylindrical object fell on to the floor. I stooped to pick it up and the inside fell out. I collected the débris in the palm of my hand.
“How many of these have you made?” I asked.
“Only three thoroughly reliable ones, including that one,” she replied. “I’ve rolled ever so many more, but the tobacco will fall out.”
“Here, let me give you a hand,” I suggested. “I’ll roll and you lick.”
“No,” said Joan kindly but firmly. “You don’t quite grasp the situation. I want to do something. I can’t make shirts or knit comforters. I’ve tried and failed. My shirts look like pillow-cases, and anything more comfortless than my comforters I couldn’t imagine. I wouldn’t ask a beggar to wear an article I had made, much less an Absent-Minded Beggar.”
“What about that tie you knitted for me last Christmas?” I said.
“Yes,” said Joan, “what about it? That’s what I want to know. You haven’t worn it once.”
It was true, I hadn’t. The tie in question was an attempt to hybridise the respective colour-schemes of a tartan plaid and a Neapolitan ice.
“That,” I explained, “is because I’ve never had a suit which would set it off as it deserves to be set off. However, if I can’t help I won’t hinder you. I only came in to say that I had done the second hole in two. I thought you would like to know I had beaten bogey.” And I retired, taking with me the little heap of tobacco and the hollow tube of paper.
When I reached the seclusion of the mulberry-tree I found that the paper had become ungummed, so I placed the tobacco in it and succeeded after a while in rolling it up. The result, though somewhat attenuated, was recognisably a cigarette. I lit it, and when I had finished coughing I came to the conclusion that if only I could induce Joan to present her gift to the German troops instead of to our Tommies it would precipitate our ultimate triumph. I had to eat several mulberries before I felt capable of proceeding to the third hole. When I got there (in two) I found it occupied by a squadron of wasps while reinforcements were rapidly coming up from a hole beneath the shed. Being hopelessly outnumbered I contented myself with a strategical movement necessitating several stiff rearguard actions.
Joan, growing a little more proficient, had in a couple of days made 500 cigarettes. I had undertaken to despatch them, and one morning she came to me with a neatly-tied-up parcel.
“Here they are,” she said; “but you must ask at the Post Office how they should be addressed. I’ve stuck on a label.”
I went out, taking the parcel with me, and walked straight to the tobacconist’s.
“Please pack up 1,000 Hareems,” I said, “and post them to the British Expeditionary Force. Mark the label ‘Cigarettes for the use of the troops.’ And look here, I owe you for a pound of tobacco my wife bought the other day. I’ll square up for that at the same time. By-the-by, what tobacco was it?”
“Well, Sir,” the man replied, “I hardly like to admit it in these times, but it was a tobacco grown in German East Africa. It really isn’t fit to smoke, and is only good for destroying wasps’ nests or fumigating greenhouses, which I thought your lady wanted it for, seeing as how she picked it out for herself. Some ladies nowadays know as much about tobacco as what we do.”
I left the shop hurriedly. The problem of the disposal of Joan’s well-meaning gift was now solved. I returned home and furtively stole up the side path into the garden. Under cover of the summer-house I undid the parcel and proceeded rapidly to strip the paper from those of the cigarettes that had not already become hollow mockeries. When I had collected all the tobacco I went in search of the gardener, and encountered him returning from one of his numerous meals.
“Wilkins,” I said, “there is a wasps’ nest on the third green, and here is some special wasp-eradicator. Will you conduct the fumigation?”
As Joan and I were walking round the garden that evening before dinner Joan said —
“I don’t want to blush to find it fame, but — do you know — I prefer doing good by stealth.”
A faint but unmistakable odour was borne on the air from the direction of the third green.
“So do I,” I said.
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